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  Dog Days Those Summer NightsBuy this film here.
Year: 2001
Director: Ulrich Seidl
Stars: Maria Hofstätter, Alfred Mrva, Erich Finsches, Gerti Lehner, Franziska Weisz, Rene Wanko, Claudia Martini, Victor Rathbone, Christian Bakonyi, Christine Jirku, Viktor Hennemann, Georg Friedrich, Ingeborg Wehofer, Leopold Schlol, Silvia Piglmann
Genre: Drama, Weirdo
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: A young man is out with his girlfriend in a nightclub in Vienna, but he is having trouble with her, or at least he perceives he is having trouble with her, as every man who so much as looks her way is accused of wanting to steal her from him: he is pathologically jealous, and after a couple of confrontations that almost lead to violence, he escorts her from the premises and they speed off in his state of the art motor car, with her warning him to slow down all the way. This is a time of a heatwave in the Austrian capital, and all the residents of the suburbs are out in force to sun themselves in the good weather - but something about the rising temperatures has a bad effect.

Ulrich Seidl had been making documentaries up to the point he made his semi-improvised debut in a fiction feature here, and if those previous works had generated perturbed grumblings, then Dog Days appeared to be geared for maximum controversy as the director took aim at the complacency of his homeland and took it down in an excoriating satire that may not even have been meant to be funny. Certainly many of those who watched it, or seemingly more likely watched half of it before walking out or turning it off, did not see any funny side whatsoever, resulting in a general reaction that was polarising, to say the least, with a love it or hate it conclusion for anyone who caught it.

This time around - and we had been here before in harrowing European art cinema, and would be here again - you had to wonder if the haters had a point, as Seidl looked to tool his movie towards those hipsters who felt that the best movies were those which threw a harsh light on human nature. That belief where painting humanity in the worst possible portrait in all our vile, selfish, bullying and cowardly demeanour was all you needed to sum up our lives to a tee was hard to shake, and the feeling that such filmmakers (or any other creatives) were all too accurate when they were at their most pessimistic and cynical was one which persisted to the point that we were living down to these expectations.

Quite willingly too; not to say that every drama had to be all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, but to express the opinion, nay strongly held tenet, that we were a perfectly despicable species spoke to a nihilism that gave up the need to improve, never mind find any respect for your fellow man or woman. Sure, there were those in the world who represented the worst of us, but did that indicate everyone should be tarred with this brush, as Seidl did here? He could not find one redeeming feature in any of his characters, they were each either annoying at one end or actively arrogant and wallowing in their decadence on the other, with no room for love as what you love would be either corrupted by lust or torn away from you to punish you for being so weak you had faith there was any decency on the planet.

Those characters included a mentally disabled woman who hitchhikes around the city's surroundings, and when she is picked up she asks impertinent questions and rifles through their belongings without a thought to whether she is breaking any confidences, never mind betraying the goodwill the drivers showed to giving her a lift. Yet they keep picking her up until one group decides she is a vandal too, and takes their revenge by beating and raping her (offscreen, thankfully), which gives you some idea of the abyss of ill-feeling Sield displayed towards his fellow man (and woman). This was merely one element of what came across like a stuck record of harping on about how awful we were, from that aforementioned boyfriend abusing his partner (who puts up with it for motives never clear), to those who have allowed their boredom to dominate their existence, to the extent that they have to behave as horribly as possible to others, violently or sexually or both simultaneously, in order to have any sensation in their days at all, dog or otherwise. You could observe the director was purely pushing buttons to wake us up to our worst aspects, but to posit this as some form of undeniable truth about us betrayed a trickster mentality that was not worth giving in to.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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